An Easy Guide on When to Use Spanish in Advertising

Should we advertise in Spanish, English, or Spanglish? This is the classic question when it comes to marketing to the dynamic, bilingual, U.S. Hispanic community, and one of the questions we often hear from clients. 

A Simple Framework

We developed a Language Decision Framework for all in-language and in-culture marketing executions. Developed after years of working with over 100 leading companies, this comprehensive guide helps organizations make language decisions for any Hispanic marketing strategy.

The Language Decision Framework has three sections:

  1. Givens: The “inherited” brand traits that rarely change, like category and target.
  2. Decisions: The elements that require ongoing marketer intervention and optimization, like objective, interaction, place, and format.
  3. Constraints: The limits on executions, like space and time, backlash, and cost.

The language choice is dependent on multiple factors. If you only think about directly translating your English ads into Spanish, you’ll miss a huge opportunity for engagement.

When to Tap into Emotion

It all starts with the Givens, the first of which is Category. First, you have to understand where your category lies along two spectrums: emotional resonance and trust.

An important concept here is L1 language. An L1 language is a person’s dominant language, usually the first language learned. This is important not only for comprehension concerns, but also because bilinguals maintain a deeper, more emotional connection to that first language.

Some categories are inherently more emotional. For example, if you ask a bilingual person a question about their favorite home cooked meal, this memory is likely encoded in the L1 language. That L1 wiring creates a link between memory, language, and emotion.

Categories such as food and entertainment are inherently emotional. Naturally, these categories have more permission, and, frankly, demand from L1 Spanish consumers to use Spanish. It’s not hard to see how brands in highly emotional categories can use language to evoke memory and play on nostalgia.

Other categories are less emotional and more functional. As a rule of thumb, they should generally lean on English-language executions. There are many reasons for this, from consumer wariness of poor translations to a greater need for clarity for complex services.

The Trust Factor

Another related, but slightly different factor, is the metaphorical height of the trust barrier you’re up against. This second dimension within category, is a combination of that trust barrier and price.

Ask yourself, “How much does a consumer need to give up to make this transaction?” For low trust/low price categories, they concede little time or money.  While high trust/high price categories require more investment.

Undoubtedly, consumers have a greater need to understand when the price and trust barrier is higher. In this case, Spanish can be an explanatory asset. But remember, Hispanics can be suspicious of scams in Spanish, especially if it has to do with financial information or other sensitive material.

If Spanish is the answer for your brand, create Spanish messaging from scratch. Otherwise, invest in proper translations. This may seem obvious, but we often see mistakes in market.

Start Early

If you’re thinking about translating your existing English marketing to Spanish, you may be missing a chance for engagement. Start further upstream, in the strategic planning process to create stand-out and powerful marketing executions for bilingual Hispanic consumers. First, assess where your category falls on the emotional and trust spectrums.

This is just the initial step of the language decision journey. To be successful, keep in mind givens (target), work through your decisions (objective, interaction, place, format), and finally, recognize constraints (space & time, backlash, cost). Your language “solution” will vary based on your brand, category, target, and desired marketing activity.

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